The Quest For Fourth
State faces Miami tomorrow night to start the final week of the basketball regular season. Winning these final two games against Miami and on the road against Virginia Tech are certainly critical if State has any hopes remaining of sneaking into the NCAA Tournament.
But simply winning out this week won’t be enough. State will need some help from some other teams in the league.
Before we go any further, let’s lay out some assumptions.
- Assumption #1: Lacking any signature wins, State will need to win at least one game against one of the top three teams in the league during the ACC Tournament.
- Assumption #2: Wins in the tournament against teams below State in the ACC standings will have very little impact on improving State’s chances at an at-large bid.
Finishing fifth or worse relegates State to facing a team on Thursday against a team below them on the totem pole. That forces State to expend 40 minutes dispatching a foe in a game worth virtually nothing to their at-large bid hopes, just for the right to face a team on Friday that might improve their chances of landing a bid en route to facing a team on Saturday that actually would help their selection committee standing.
A fourth-place finish, however, gives you a bye to Friday, where your chances of facing an opponent that could boost your NCAA chances increase. The fourth place team faces the winner of the 5/12 game, and should State finish in the fourth seed, the team in the fifth seed would likely be either Virginia or Miami. A win against either of those two teams would benefit State given they both have higher RPIs than the Pack.
That would set the stage for a likely matchup with either Duke or Carolina in the semi-finals. Win that game to advance to the tournament final, and now you’re talking about a State team that’s suddenly right back in the discussion for an at-large bid with four-straight wins, three against teams with superior RPIs.
But to finish fourth, State doesn’t hold their destiny entirely in their own hands. Let’s look at the other three teams vying for fourth to get a picture of what needs to transpire for State to begin play in the ACC Tournament on Friday.
1. Virginia 8-6: Remaining games – FSU, @Maryland. The Cavaliers probably have the most difficult road ahead of the four teams hoping to finish fourth. Despite FSU’s loss to Miami over the weekend, the Seminoles are still solidly the third-strongest team in the ACC. And while Maryland has stumbled a bit along the way, their win against the Hurricanes proves they can be a dangerous team at home. Likely finish: 9-7.
2. Miami 8-6: Remaining games – @State, BC. Miami conversely has the easiest road to fourth. They get another shot at State to avenge an earlier loss to the Pack at a time when State is searching for confidence, then conclude the year hosting the 12th-place team in the ACC. State can positively impact their own destiny by defeating the Hurricanes tomorrow, but a loss to Miami all but assures the Hurricanes the fourth-place spot. I haven’t been very bullish on the Pack of late. Likely finish: 10-6.
3. Clemson 7-7: Remaining games – Virginia Tech, @FSU. For the Tigers and State, the only shot these 7-7 teams have is to win out. VT at home is a winable game, but winning in Tallahassee will be an extremely tall order. Clemson has been playing much better of late, as State found out last weekend, but not well enough to beat the Seminoles on their home turf I believe. Likely finish: 8-8.
So for State to finish fourth, the following has to happen:
- State must win out to finish 9-7. A victory over Miami would cause the Hurricanes to also finish with a 9-7 record (assuming they take care of business against BC), but State would hold the tiebreaker with two wins over Miami this season.
- Virginia must lose out to finish 8-8. A 9-7 finish would give them fourth due to their head-to-head victories over the Pack and Miami earlier this season.
- Clemson must lose one of its remaining two games to finish 8-8. A 9-7 record would give Clemson the upper hand over the Pack by virtue of this past weekend’s victory against State.
I actually like our chances against Miami at home better than winning our final regular season game on the road, and–how’s this for me being a State fan–I’d even go so far as to say a win against Miami would decrease our chances against the Hokies. An emotional win at home on Senior Night against the Hurricanes would set the table for a high-stakes game on the road in a hostile environment, and sadly, I haven’t seen this team respond well when a lot is riding on simply taking care of business. (See also: closing out the Duke, Clemson, Virginia, Stanford, Indiana and Vanderbilt games)
The odds are slim for a fourth place finish. All State can do is win out and hope for the best. But regardless of whether they finish fourth, fifth or lower, closing strong with a 9-7 record would be a huge step in the right direction for a program projected to finish 9th in the league before the season started.